This is NOT who we are…

“The character of our country has to be measured in part, not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.” Those were the words of President Obama, when he was asked over the summer about the CIA’s use of torture in the months and years after 9/11.

With the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report today, it’s become abundantly clear that when times got tough, America buckled under the pressure. We lost sight of the values that built this country, and of the ideals that have made this country great. That’s something that would deeply upset Abraham Lincoln.

Back on April 24th, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed General Order No. 100, otherwise known as the Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States, or the Lieber Code.

The Lieber Code was a set of instructions signed by President Lincoln, which dictated how Union soldiers should conduct themselves during war time, and how they should treat prisoners of war. The instructions themselves were written by Francis Lieber, Lincoln’s top wartime legal authority.

The Lieber Code was so influential and powerful that many of its key components were included in the Hague Convention of 1899, and even into the Geneva Conventions and Nuremburg trials. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we forgot about the Lieber Code, about the laws of war, and about basic human rights.

So, what exactly was in the Lieber Code?

While it contains wide-ranging instructions on how to operate during wartime, a great deal of the Lieber Code deals with prisoners of war and how they should be treated. For example, the Lieber Code said that it was illegal for soldiers to intentionally inflict more wounds on an enemy who was already captured, and made that act punishable by death.

Article 71 of the Lieber Code reads, “Whoever intentionally inflicts additional wounds on an enemy already wholly disabled, or kills such an enemy, or who orders or encourages soldiers to do so, shall suffer death, if duly convicted, whether he belongs to the Army of the United States, or is an enemy captured after having committed his misdeed.”

The Lieber Code also made it clear that prisoners of war weren’t to be exposed to any additional suffering while being held captive. Article 75 of the Code reads that, “Prisoners of war are subject to confinement or imprisonment such as may be deemed necessary on account of safety, but they are to be subjected to no other intentional suffering or indignity.” Basically, being held captive was bad enough. Prisoners of war didn’t need to suffer anymore.

Finally, the Lieber Code even referenced how prisoners of war were to be fed. Article 76 stated that, “prisoners of war shall be fed upon plain and wholesome food, whenever practicable, and treated with humanity.” That’s quite different than the forced-feedings or "rectal feedings" that are taking place at Guantanamo Bay today and took place in CIA "black sites" during the Bush administration.

A little over 150 years ago, there was absolutely no tolerance for torture in America. Then, on a pristine autumn day in 2001, that all changed.

Suddenly, Bush and Cheney cowered in terror - Bush down in Florida and then hysterically hopscotching across the country, while Cheney hid in an underground bunker. Their fear became our error; they were so frightened that they decided to set aside traditional American values. That was a grave mistake and a huge lapse in our collective judgment.

Torture is not an American value. It’s that simple. We were always the country that stopped torturers, not the country that did the torture.

Today marks a new chapter in American history. Every American should read the summary of the CIA torture report and learn from it. And, as much as it may hurt, we must acknowledge that the Bush administration committed torture and war crimes, and we must promise to never, ever do these things again.

Meanwhile, while it looks unlikely that Bush administration cronies will ever be held criminally liable for their actions, let’s hold them accountable by pardoning them for the roles they played in one of the darkest chapters in American history, as the ACLU's Anthony Romero suggested in today's New York Times. It'll be a brand on their foreheads that they'll wear for the rest of their lives, and will follow them throughout history.

Torture has no place in American society. Let’s make sure it’s never allowed to rear its ugly head again.


Queenbeethatsme's picture
Queenbeethatsme 8 years 25 weeks ago

Countries who commit war crimes do not actually get the right to exonerate or pardon their leaders who torture.. Thom might have meant well but the gesture is not only hollow but phyrric. The FACT is, when a country commits a war crime it is the ones they commited it against who have the right to face them and pardon them and it is the WORLD COURT in Den Hague where this is done.

Oh.. we can absolve them or pardon them or even acquit them--that does not change all that they did to persons in the Middle East and Pakistan and does not really address the issue. Crimes were indeed committed, we can no more stand as proxies for those who suffered than whites can pretend to stand for slaves or native americans who dealt with atrocities--Compare apples to apples.

We shall commit torture again and then deny it or finesse what we did--we are becoming experts at justifying and denying the evil we do...

Let the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine, Pakistan, Syria and others have their say--we can declare our former leaders war criminals and then let them declare their wishes for guilt or pardon in effigy since we lack both the conscience and will to punish them in reality.

Queenbeethatsme's picture
Queenbeethatsme 8 years 25 weeks ago

"This is not who we are" Unfortunately Thom it IS who we are--we are not what we once were and given our trajectory and how we choose to justify evil and inequities, this is what we have become.

Breathe it in, from Iraq to Ferguson, MO, the rest of the world both laughs at and despises us--we are bullies. We are racists. We commit genocide. We torture --but unlike previous despots or horrific regimes, we don't own our evil, we simply ignore it and lie to ourselves about what we did and why--we are the worst of evils--the kind that pretends it is good and just and right and protectors of everyone else--that's why we kill them.

We, Thom.. are liars--and that one skill means we can do any evil with impunity, then lie to ourselves and others about it.

Daniel Johnson's picture
Daniel Johnson 8 years 25 weeks ago

We were never as good as Lincoln or the Lieber Code seemed to think we were. We should be. We could be. But the way we treated the native Americans, the blacks, women, Mexicans, and others, shows we were never an ideal group. But the ideal of what we should be is there, and it is important to strive for.

cmrced's picture
cmrced 8 years 25 weeks ago

I understand Thom's argument but I think it may be flawed in three ways:

  1. As much as I agree that Buish et al are war criminals, "branding" them as such with no due process is inhernetly problematic and unjust. It too violates the values we claim to stand for...and
  2. It would be a precedent ripe for abuse. A subsequent president could, for example, retaliate by "pardoning" Obama for "covering up Benghazi," or "granting amnesty to the dreamers," or "exceeding his executive authority," or any other trumped up charge they could come up with...and
  3. For Obama to seek an indictment of Bush et al may indeed be politically impossible, but I'm not sure it would "blow up in his face" the way Clinton's impeachment did for the Republicans, for the simple reason that the impeachment was frivolous on its face and clearly unjustifed, something the American people and even some Republicans could see immediately. The war crimes revealed in the Senate report are just as clearly not. Far from blowing up in his face, it could be tremendously uplifting for the American people -- and the world -- to see that no one is above the law, especially right now when our collective faith in the rule of law and basic fairness is being sorely tested, provoking nationwide protests like we haven't seen since the 60's.

But how could we do this? Why couldn't Eric Holder, the outgoing Attorney General who for thatv reason has little if anything to lose politically, and who also has the virtue of not being Obama, simply say, "We don't know for sure if Bush et al have committed war crimes or not, but the crimes revealed by the Senate report are certainly serious enough to merit further investigation, and in the interests of fairness, such an investigation should not be conducted by anyone holding partisan political office...therefore I am appointing an Independent Counsel/Special Prosecutor to delve deeply into this and proceed accordingly." (I could be wrong, but I don't believe the Atty General would need Congressional approval to simply do his job and enforce the law.)

Even when the Republicans and the right wing echo chamber screamed bloody murder and blamed Obama for Holder's decision, he could simply say to them and the world that these crimes are too serious to sweep under history's rug, and both our national integrity and the principle of "equal justice under law" require such a diligent, impartial, and non-partisan inquiry, with any offenders held to appropriate account.

Given all the lip service they endlessly pay to "values and principles and the rule of law," I'd love to hear the Republicans and Fox News argue against that.

PhilipHenderson's picture
PhilipHenderson 8 years 25 weeks ago

Torture has always been an act of terror. The purpose of torture was to show to enemies what would happen to them if they were captured to dissuade folks from being enemies of the ruler. In Shakespeares Othello at the end of the play when Iago is discovered to be the cause of so much trouble the prince orders that Iago be tortured then killed. He has Iago tortured as punishment and to discourage anyone else for following Iago's footsteps. The torture is to continue until Iago begs to be killed, then it is continued as long as possible. George W. Bush did not torture to learn information, he was performing a terrorist act to frighten would be enemies. George W. Bush has admitted to "enhanced interrogation" but I know that a rose is a rose no matter what name you call it, by enhanced interrogation he meant torture.

PhilipHenderson's picture
PhilipHenderson 8 years 25 weeks ago

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and others have spoken freely about their orders to have certain detainees subject to "enhanced interrogation" that is merely another word for torture. This is admission of being a war criminal. At the conclusion of World War II the United States participated in war crimes tribrinals where Japanese officers were prosecuted for water boarding Allied prisoners. The Japanese officers were convicted of torture for water boarding and hanged. If they had said they were not torturing but merely using enhanced interrogation methods they still would have been convicted and hanged for their actions.

PhilipHenderson's picture
PhilipHenderson 8 years 25 weeks ago

It is hard to dispute your argument because actions speak louder than words. How can Thom Hartmann say we are "better than that" when we elect leaders who show us at our worst. I objected to George W. Bush's actions after he declared "War on Terror" but I had too little political power to stop him. Nonetheless, I believe I was right to oppose him and millions of Americans believed as I do. We can make our nation better if we punish those who betray the principles in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. There is still time to make George W. Bush accountable for his actions which I believe we war crimes. We must speak up as a nation to do so.

I strive for a better world and a better America by revealing the craven and illegal behavior of George W. Bush. He should be brought to trial.

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 8 years 25 weeks ago

As I tune in, Thom’s very good and justified rant is calling on Pres. Obama to hold W. Bush and Cheney accountable for war crimes. By pardoning them? I’m not sure I agree, but I see his point. I know indictment is unrealistic, but shouldn’t we at least steer the dialogue in that direction?..Pardoning is no more likely to happen than idictment. Obama will not pardon or indict. Why?…because Obama is also a war criminal..don’t take my word for it;

Rupugs aren’t going to impeach for war crimes…which is the only legitimate reason Obama could be impeached. If Obama prosecuted Bush/Cheney, etc. it would indeed blow up in his face…and so it should!! D.C. might well become a free-for-all…oh wait, it’s already a free-for-rich.

Obama is the one going after Chelsea Manning, Snowden and James Risen. Even Bush didn’t go after journalists and whistle blowers as aggressively. I’m no fan of Bush, by any means, but can you imagine the uproar on the “professional left” if the NSA was known to be conducting business as we have discovered they have been under Obama, during the Bush administration?..or if it had been learned that for every 1 “combatant” killed by a drone strike, 28 civilians died, many of them children, or that drone pilots were ordered to return to attack the rescuers of victims in a so-called “second strike strategy”? What if we discovered that prisoners at GITMO, many of them innocent, were being force fed under Bush? All of this has happened since Obama took office. Maybe Obama is having trouble closing the facility, but he could, with a stroke of a pen, take a stand to end the torture…which is still going on in black sites all over the world if one believes Jeremy Scahill. As I write, a caller is also bringing up another story covered by Amy Goodman a while back, how, under Obama, US soldiers were complicit in leaving men in cargo containers in 120 degree heat for days. I remember the man interviewed saying that when they finally opened the containers the stench of blood, vomit, urine, feces and death was like the stench of hell itself. The men, stacked like chord wood and unable to move freely and desparate for water had literally bitten into one another trying to drink each other’s blood.

Thom asserts that Bush and Cheney went insane with fear after 9/11. Cheney and Bush didn’t go insane, they were sociopaths from the start. War profiteering was their goal at any cost. The notion that, in journalism, we have to have all the answers and evidence of what did occur before we can publicly pose the questions or risk being labeled a conspiracy theorist (like that’s always bad thing?) is tragic. Speculation encourages critical thought. The only time anyone should be labeled a ‘conspiracy freak’ is when they assert a hypothesis as fact for which they have no evidence. As an intuitive, I know things to be true that although I can’t prove, there is more than enough circumstantial evidence just beneath the surface. I am more than willing to be thought of as a conspiracy nut in order to, hopefully, stimulate thought and conversation. Although it’s not popular to openly discuss, there are more than just a few credible whistle blowers coming forward with evidence pointing to various corporate and governmental entities within Saudi Arabia/US that likely perpetrated 9/11. One of these whistle blowers is Barbara Honegger whom you’ve had on your show, Thom. Perhaps, popular or not, it’s time to pose bigger questions.

You can see Barbara’s lecture here; Every detail is covered and thoughtfully analyzed as only her mind can.

Architects and engineers thoroughly and scientifically debunk the official story re. the collapse of the towers here;

The only difference I can see at this point from the corporate Dem establishment and the Repugs is…at least with wolves, what you see is what you get. With Dems you get sheep…oh wait…wolves in sheep’s clothing and sheep who are told, “do as we say, or you’ll get eaten.” It is hard to express any legitimate outrage without being labeled as “hyperbolic” perhaps, but I’ll take that chance. My favorite line from one of my favorite movies, ‘Mars Attacks!’ is when Grandma, points at the TV while laughing hysterically and says. “They just killed Congress”. Of course I’m not proposing violence against Congress, but I honestly believe, at this point, most Americans would be better off if the Federal Government, with all of it’s tenticulous (as in ‘many tentacles’ ) agencies in it’s current utterly & irrevocably corrupt incarnation, did not exist at all. It has become a giant cancerous tumor raveging the last vestiges of life from the heart and soul of it’s own people. As Thom, for a second time plays a recording of sHillary recounting Washington’s noble treatment of British POWs, I am not fooled into thinking she will not follow in the footsteps of the two recent administrations. Again, lets not forget who she appointed as Assistant Sec. of State right before resigning, so as to attempt to distance herself from the agenda of the ‘Project for a New American Century’. I think it’s time we accept the fact that our government is nothing more than a marionette who’s strings are pulled by those with the most money and nothing but collapse or war can change this.

John McMurtry internationally recognized moral and political philosopher who is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and University Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph, Ontario and author of several books put it well. Paraphrasing, he said that the current incarnation of fascism in America is worse than Hitler’s Nazism, because Hitler’s Nationalist Nazism thought to care for , with the exception of those in concentration camps like GITMO of course, the German country and the German people. Infrastructure and good work for ‘good’ Germans was valued. At least Hitler sought to conquer openly instead of hiding behind covert coups or the feigned attempts to bring “democracy” to the more ‘unfortunate” nations. Now, as McMurtry put it, the current incarnation of American fascism is consuming itself from within, sucking the very economic ‘blood’ from it’s own people and infrastructure. I couldn’t agree more.

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 8 years 25 weeks ago

Speking for my Sig. other putting in her 2 cents, "Why pardon Bush et al now if a future
president, like Bernie, could prosecute down the line?"

Jussmartenuf's picture
Jussmartenuf 8 years 25 weeks ago

Right on, Phillip Henderson!

Bush, Cheney, Rummy and an entire string of Neo-con perps.

BlackKnight's picture
BlackKnight 8 years 25 weeks ago

I do not favor pardoning these guys. Back when Richard Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford - I felt that was wrong - as Nixon should have had the chance to clear his name by going thru the trial process. He would also have had the chance to be imprisoned for his crimes. The same goes for these guys. And if we interpret the Lieber Code literally - some of them would be executed.

I remember reading a comment about Nixon: If Richard Nixon had been hanged for his crimes - I wonder if that would have deterred these thugs from theirs.

JohnLemessurier's picture
JohnLemessurier 8 years 25 weeks ago

"Grave atrocities allowed to pass, Blinded by the twisted holy word, Deceit and murder tried to justify, A stain that history cannot erase."

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 25 weeks ago

I'm sure President Cheney and his get rich quick war for profit associates knew torture would add fuel to the fire of their war and thus more justification for out of control spending. It was simply a part of a bigger business/political decision.....spend the country into oblivion, and then blame the resulting four trillion addition the the Natl debt on anything related to public sector spending on not for profit programs, like Meals on Wheels, food stamps, unemployment insurance, any so called entitlement, etc. It was also a great way to put in motion their union busting austerity politics. In addition it has become part of the out of control govt. spending lie on Teapublican Tom Reed's debt clock. Let's start a four trillion dollar war and at the same time give massive tax breaks to the very wealthy and then blame the resulting debt on policy that supports the commons.

Bush's pardon for torture crimes needs to come after we address his two election fraud crimes. Had it been President Gore, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

vitocaputo's picture
vitocaputo 8 years 25 weeks ago

Thom said, "We lost sight of the values that built this country, and of the ideals that have made this country great. That’s something that would deeply upset Abraham Lincoln. "

Well... I'm deeply upset that Thom now announces that he lost sight of the values — I certainly didn't! I knew this was wrong on the first day I found out that it was happening... and I find it offensive to be included in the "we" that somewhere along the way lost sight of the values. There's us... and there's them — don't lump both into we

Thom said, "That was a grave mistake and a huge lapse in our collective judgment." Sorry Charley... that was not a lapse in our collective judgement. It wasn't even a lapse of judgement by those in power — it was EVIL in action.

These guys weren't even elected to run the country. They confiscated power. Maybe the Supreme Court —a big part of them— should be brought in front of The Hague?

Pardon them? Does that mean forget about our old tradition of "innocent until proven guilty"? (Oops! Bush took that away too — never mind.) How can you pardon someone who STILL doesn't acknowledge their "lapse in judgement". To this day (including today!)... Cheney says he would do it again. To this day (including today!)... the liars are still lying about the success of their torture strategy. Shouldn't the victims have something to say about whether or not evil should be pardoned or permanently prevented from jamming their values and morality down everyone else's throat?

Do you really think that pardoning these evil people will tell the world that "we been bad... but we really do know right from wrong... it's just not politically possible to prosecute them"... is going to re-establish the gone-forever reputation of moral superiority we enjoyed?

If you really believe that merely calling these guys out on what they did will discourage a rerun (How's that strategy working with the banksters?)... you need to realize these people are EVIL and you can't change that. They really don't give a rat's ass about how anyone else perceives their behavior. Giving them a pardon is just telling their ilk they can do it again with impunity — the precedence will have been set. We're just a bunch of sissies that are too afraid to stand up for what's right.

We should have been in the streets when the Supreme Court overstepped their power and decided who should be president. We... collectively... have turned into a bunch of wimps. These people are raping us —economically and morally— and all we do is try to get more people to vote... on machines that they control... via the media that they also control. It was Stalin that said "It doesn't matter who people vote for... it only matters who counts the vote." Case in point: they know that we know how they steal elections. Has that stopped them? Have you noticed that all discussion of the corrupt voting machines ceases between elections?

There's only one rational reason that we have become so passive — it's the damn neurotoxin aspartame — thrust upon humanity by Reagan and Rumsfeld! The timing is right — you got a better explanation?

(Supposedly...) More than those on the right... we on the left have knowledge. We're not ignorant... but it's sure looking like some of us don't know what to do with our knowledge. People that have knowledge but don't know what to do with it —by definition— are stupid. Unfortunately... there is no cure for "stupid".

I'm having a really hard time understanding the concept of "let’s hold them accountable by pardoning them". Exactly how does that differ from giving them a "Get out of Jail Free" card? I thought that concept was in a game ... not real life. Where can I get one?

They're not about to say "I been bad... remove me from society". Saying "They will never be prosecuted"... will certainly be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

ckrob's picture
ckrob 8 years 25 weeks ago

A pardon is effective only within the boundaries of our country. Those pardoned risk arrest should they ever travel outside our borders. A bill of particulars included in the pardoning process could be quite useful to an international criminal court of jurisdiction should the pardoned person be apprehended. Israel has "retrieved" suspected war criminals from non-cooperating states for the purpose of trial. The U.S. has not objected to this violation of national sovereignty. Perhaps a pardon could be a beginning rather than an end?

A twelve year old with a toy gun and John Crawford in a Walmart with a toy gun (both black) were killed in Ohio, an open carry state.

RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 25 weeks ago

Torture is wrong. It's just that simple. Torture is an act of terror. Torturing any human being or animal, for any reason, is just plain wrong. Everyone should know this just like we automaticly know that murder is wrong. We, the people of the planet Earth, call wrong doers, thieves, murderers, etc,, criminals and punish them according to the laws that exist all over the world. The means, (torture), does not justify the ends, (information). Torture is a crime and can never be justified. Justifying torture takes an extreme amount of arrogance. Torturing our enemies gives our enemies the idea that they have the right to torture us. Either way it's still wrong. The torture at Guantanamo is a crime and someone should be held accountable for it. If no one is punished for the crime then Bush & Chaney should at least be publicly shamed for it, leaving them with the legacy of themselves being terrorist.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 25 weeks ago

If I were the first president of a new nation, I would intentionally commit one barely impeachable offense, and publicly ask to be kicked out of office for it, just to get the precedent out of the way.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 25 weeks ago

Robotic-pigeon photo! (Okay, it's actually a steampunk dove sculpture, but I think Thom would enjoy the pictures of it.)

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 25 weeks ago

The problems come in subtle and not so subtle changes. Here is on of those not so subtle changes that might help explain the way things are going.

Prior to the War in Iraq - The US Soldier's Creed

I am an American Soldier.
I am a member of the United States Army -- a protector of the greatest nation on earth.
Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation it is sworn to guard.

I am proud of my own organization. I will do all I can to make it the finest unit in the Army.
I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I will do my full part to carry out orders and instructions given to me or my unit.

As a soldier, I realize that I am a member of a time-honored profession--that I am doing my share to keep alive the principles of freedom for which my country stands.
No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country.
I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform.

I am proud of my country and its flag.
I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American Soldier.

What Rumsfeld changed it to:

I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.

grammawmoses's picture
grammawmoses 8 years 25 weeks ago

What happened to the investigation of Cheney's war crimes? Why is he still not beng held accountable? Why is he not in jail? Why is anyone listening to anything he says? And please tell me the US Soldier's Creed modified by Rumsfeld is not a permanent change!

vitocaputo's picture
vitocaputo 8 years 25 weeks ago


The Soldier's Creed was (permanently) changed in 2003 while Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush. Although it certainly has the Rumsfeld stench... Rummy didn't write it. The revision was authorized by Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki. I'm certain that Rumsfeld was the final editor.

I'm sure it could be changed again... but the comparison of the current and previous incarnations makes it really clear: This is no longer the country we grew up in.

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 25 weeks ago


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